Book Council chairman Mark Camilleri today hit out at the government’s draft media bill, saying the proposed increase in libel fines could cripple smaller media houses.

The fines are set to increase from a maximum of €11,000 to €20,000.
Addressing a press conference on behalf of the Front Against Censorship, Mr Camilleri also said the bill would not really remove criminal libel.

Mr Camilleri said that defamation was still a criminal act under article 252 of the criminal code. He said the government’s media bill would not change this. In order for criminal libel to be removed, article 252 in the criminal code also had to be removed, he said.

Mr Camilleri also hit out at the proposed increase in libel fines. He said that the government had no electoral mandate to increase these fines.

The Book Council Chairman said the government had offered no technical reason as to how it arrived at the €20,000 figure.

Mr Camilleri said he believed that these laws were being used to protect politician rather than the common citizen.

He said smaller media houses were the ones who would suffer as they could not afford to pay such high fines. Mr Camilleri argued that the high fines acted as more of a deterrent than a true remedy to any reputational damage suffered.

Activist Ingram Bondin said these fines could cripple media houses.

“The protection of an individual’s reputation has to be balanced with the need for a free press,” Mr Bondin said.

Mr Bondin said the need for registration of websites was not the most problematic part of the new bill. He said protection of sources should apply to everyone and not just journalists.

Mr Bondin questioned why insulting the president could still land a person in hail.
The president was not a neutral figure as the presidency involved taken certain political decisions which should be scrutinised.

He welcomed the removal of obscene libel as a positive step as it eliminated artistic censorship.

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